Trading standards leafletsRef: 122596
Advice for caterers on food allergens and intolerance
In the UK about ten people die every year from an allergic reaction to food, and many more end up in hospital. In most cases, the food that causes the reaction is from a restaurant or takeaway.
There is a list of 14 specific food allergens including eggs, fish, peanuts and milk. For a person with a food allergy, dishes containing the food they react to can be highly dangerous. Caterers should display a notice to inform customers with food allergies / intolerances that they can ask staff for advice about what dishes contain.
They should also check the ingredients list of anything they buy in, check the complete recipes of all products and always store foods separately in closed containers, especially peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk powder and flour, and train staff to check with the kitchen every time someone asks for a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient.
In the guide
What foods cause allergic reactions?
What you can do
European law (EU Regulation (EC) No 178/2002) prohibits 'unsafe' food being placed on the market. When deciding whether a food is 'unsafe' - the information a business provides to its customers, including menu descriptions, price lists and the information provided by serving staff - will be taken into account.
For a person with a food allergy / intolerance, dishes containing the food they react to are 'unsafe'. Businesses must therefore ensure that they give people with food allergies / intolerances the information they need about whether the food they react to is contained in a particular dish. If someone asks you whether a dish contains a certain food, you should never guess the answer. Find out the information the customer wants and let them decide if they can eat the food.
What foods cause allergic reactions?
In theory any food could cause an allergic reaction but they are most commonly caused by the following:
- cereals containing gluten
- peanuts (also called groundnuts)
- nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
- sesame seeds
- celery and celeriac
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites at levels above 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre expressed as S02
What you can do:
- display a notice (and also a message on the menu) to inform customers with food allergies / intolerances that they can ask staff for advice about what dishes contain
- check the ingredients list of anything you buy in
- check the complete recipes of all your products so that you can fully answer questions
- always store foods separately in closed containers, especially peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk powder and flour
- if a dish contains one of the foods that can cause severe allergic reactions, make sure that you state it in the name of the dish or the description on the menu - for example 'strawberry mousse with almond shortbread'
- if you use unrefined nut or seed oils in cooking or in dressings, state this on the menu and/or on a notice displayed at the serving area
- when you have been asked to prepare a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient, make sure that you don't cook it in oil that has already been used to cook other foods that could contaminate
- train your staff to check with the kitchen every time someone asks for a meal that doesn't contain a certain ingredient
Guidance on voluntary best practice measures is available from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) entitled 'The provision of allergen information for non pre-packed foods'. This can be found on the FSA website.
Detailed information on allergy information for caterers, and the results of a FSA study on how people with allergies make choices in eating establishments, is also available on the FSA website, entitled 'Understanding" >http://food.gov.uk/science/research/foodcomponentsresearch/allergyresearch/t07programme/t07projectlist/t07058/">'Understanding the food choice reasoning of food allergic consumers'.
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted. Please contact us for further information.
Food Safety Act 1990
Food Labelling Regulations 1996
EU Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety
Food Labelling (Amendment) (England) (No.2) Regulations 2004
Food Labelling (Declaration of Allergens) (England) Regulations 2008
Food Labelling (Declaration of Allergens) (England) Regulations 2011
Last reviewed/updated: March 2012
© 2013 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.